Voucher Code & Affiliate Problems / Solutions

I recently got a large commission from a holiday booking and when I looked at the referring URL I could see it was thanks to a voucher code post I had done. This left me with mixed feelings – I felt a bit sick to be honest. Can it really be so easy?, what about the poor affiliate that perhaps did a load of hard work actually doing the selling on this one only to lose the cookie at the last moment?, how many times had the reverse happened to me?

OK Merchants, first let’s look at the potential problems having a discount code or promo code box in your checkout can bring :

  1. The customer is in your checkout ready to pay.
  2. They see the voucher code box and then they will most likely open up a new window / tab on their browser and use  a search engine to look for “your brand + voucher code”
  3. They find a discount code worth 5% but it’s on an affiliate site and the user clicks a link costing you another 5% affiliate commission. OR
  4. They find a page promising a voucher code but actually there is none, and then they are cross sold to one of your competitors. OR
  5. They might not find any discount code but hate the fact that someone is paying less than them, keep searching and abandon the cart.

So…. we have gone from a scenario where the customer was happy to buy from a merchant to one where they either abandon checkout or in which they convert but the merchant has paid out commission for nothing – if there was a code too they are looking at even bigger loss.

Well, this has already happened in the travel industry to a large extent but another fear is that the merchant might be setting a trap for themselves that customers are being taught to only convert when they have a discount code – they learn to expect to be able to get one.

A third problem is that the wrong type of affiliate is being rewarded while the blogger / content type affiliate loses the cookie, and may be less enthusiastic to promote the brand in the future.

Here are some possible (merchant) solutions to this… Some strategic, some technical and one SEO…

  • Instruct affiliate networks not to work with voucher code sites – but still this is hard to “police” and still people will search and might end up being “cross sold” to another shop.
  • Don’t put voucher code affiliates on the top tier of your commission scheme – after all how much are they adding to your entire sales process ? They are just cherry pickers right ?
  • Hide the coupon box but reveal it for certain types of traffic – lets say you want to run a promo code for a facebook page, you create a URL which includes the signal to either display the coupon code box or to apply the discount and give a message “your 15% facebook discount has been applied”
  • Keep the coupon code box on the site but give it a name more like “gift certificate” – that way you can avoid people searching for “gift certificate” since they won’t expect to be able to have one without buying one.
  • Create a page on your site which is optimised for “Your Brand + Discount Code” and get it to the #1 spot in Google… This page could explain that there are no discount codes available or have a small discount with a strong call to action (time limited).
  • Keep the coupon box very discreet in the design. Don’t make it so obvious.

Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment. I’m particularly interested to hear from merchants that have done some research and audits into their voucher code activity. Also very keen to hear from other affiliates – assuming you’re not a voucher code affiliate do you purposely work harder for merchants that don’t have voucher code boxes in their check out? How much do you reckon you are “losing” to voucher code cookie monsters ?


  1. Rob you’ve no reason to feel bad, you’re playing by the rules & that’s fine.

    Sunshine have a good policy: they don’t publish codes (which I think is smart) and they have a page on their site optimised for ‘brand + discount code’.

    I don’t think the fabled ‘solution’ to this ‘problem’ (ie assigning commission to all affiliates through the click chain, instead of just the last click) will ever get implemented because the people who’d have to invest in doing that (networks and merchants) aren’t actually the people suffering from it.

    And let’s face it, even if it does come off it would probably just open a new bunch of loopholes ready for exploitation.

    What’s the hard working content affiliate to do?
    * don’t invest in promoting product where they’re likely to loose sales to a voucher code site
    * find another business model

  2. This is where I realise I’ve been a bit naive … I didn’t realise that the last click won, I always presumed that the first click won, as this seems much fairer to me (although perhaps I’m biased, as we operate a search engine, which tends to sit at the start of the chain). Obviously, I’m wrong. Why isn’t it done like this? Have I missed something?

  3. Hi again – I’m confused – here’s a Thomas Cook voucher page:


    And here’s a statement from TC saying they don’t issue vouchers:

    http://www.thomascook.com/thomas-cook-discount-codes/ – which links to the above page, which contains a voucher code.

    What’s going on here?

  4. Don’t know. Why don’t you ask them?

  5. A good point Matt! I just have, and I’ll keep you posted.

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